Palmanova: Opening of the Exhibition to Mark the 65th Anniversary of the Liberation

Larry Southgate represented the Betfor Association and has written this account of his visit.


I flew out Ryanair from Liverpool to Treviso on Tuesday 1 June 2010, arriving at 2045 hrs local time. I was met at the airport by a friend of Selvino Ceschia and driven to my hotel – the Hotel ROMA – in Palmanova. Quite a pleasant small hotel in the centre of town.
On Wednesday 2 June all the invited guests, (which included 2 ex-members of TRUST, one of whom was called Peter.H.Luste, plus one other American who had been a member of the American 88th Division which served in that area in 1945, name of Robert McCall), met up at the Municipal building which is situated on the side of a very large square at about 1030. There were also some American ladies present from the ?American Centre? from Trieste. (This seems to be something on the lines of the British Council Offices one finds in certain places overseas) I was, it appeared, the only Englishman present. Inside we were greeted by the Town Mayor, Mr. Federico CRESSATI, who gave us a very warm welcome and, at the end of his welcoming speech he presented to the three Americans and myself, a parchment design of the city plus a key ring with a design of the city inscribed on it. (After he finished I took it upon myself to interject that not only the British, New Zealanders and Americans were involved in the liberation of Friuli-Venezia Giulia but that the Italian partisans had also played a very large part in the liberation. He replied that there was a big difference. The Italians were fighting for their own country on their own territory, whilst the Allies had come a long long way to fight and liberate their country from the Fascists and Nazis.) I propose getting this parchment framed and will give it to the Association although as we have yet no place, such as an office, in which to hang it, it will, perforce, have to remain in my custody. The welcoming meeting then broke up and we all went outside to have a coffee until such time as they were ready to receive us at the building a few metres away in which is housed the new Military Historical Museum.

We made our way to this building just after 1100 hrs and were greeted by Colonel Pellegrino BELLINO and other officers and then came the time to cut the ribbon and declare the Museum open. After a few moments of indecision as to who should cut the ribbon, some fingers pointed to me, so I stepped forward, was presented with a pair of scissors and duty bound, cut the ribbon and declared the Museum duly open. Inside we were invited to sign a book as the first visitors to the Museum. One room of the Museum is devoted to the Allied Armies who liberated the area in April 1945. There are various dummies dressed in uniforms of that time. One in the Khaki drill uniform of a British officer who looks somewhat like one of the two North African officers who were shown in various cartoons of 1943/45. (Incidentally, this dummy urgently requires a Sam Browne. Anybody got one spare? Or can get one to send out to Selvino?) There is a collection of radio sets, field telephones, machine guns, rifles, grenades, helmets, khaki side-caps and also in two glass cabinets, a selection of photographs of British, New Zealand and American troops at ease during the time they were in occupation up until 1954.
We were then taken out to lunch to a most impressive restaurant on the outskirts of Palmanova at a place called TRIVIGNANO – UDINESE. The restaurant has been created in what was at one time the Custom’s Post on the border between the Austro-Hungarian frontier and Veneto. Naturally, it’s name is: La Dogana Vecchia. (The Old Customs House).
After lunch, back to Palmanova and a tour of part of the ancient walls. It is here, necessary, to explain that Palmanova is a museum in itself. It is a very ancient medieval town that was constructed to withstand the attacks, if they came, from the neighbouring barbarians and especially from the Austro-Hungarian empire. It is constructed with five defensive walls and only three exits/entrances. The Porta Cividale, the Porta Udine and the Porta Aquilea.
We did a tour of the Porta Cividale, where there is also another museum, dating back with exhibits to 1593. Quite impressive. Afterwards we were invited to accompany a gentleman called Aldo Bokele(?) who is actually a Triestino but who moved to Palmanova some 15 years ago. He is a collector of militaria. And when I say a ‘collector’ I mean a “”Collector””. He has his own museum in a very large warehouse on the edge of town.
He has Tanks, Anti-Aircraft guns, Cannons of all shapes and sizes and three rooms full, but full, of radios and wireless sets of all types and sizes, including even submarine radios and radios from Lancaster bombers. 38 sets, 18 sets, 19 sets, 22 sets, you name it, and they ALL work perfectly. Mortar bombs, grenades, mines of all types. Jeeps, trucks, signs of all kinds in English and American, you name it, he’s got it. Only thing missing as far as I could see, was an Atomic Bomb of the kind dropped on Hiroshima!!
Apart from this opening of the new Museum, I was told they will be holding another exhibition in September this year showing the “underground warfare” practised by the Partisans, using the tunnels and caves in various places from which to attack the German and Fascist armies. (Such as those one can see in Monfalcone).. Aldo and Selvino Ceschia would like us to pay a visit when we go to Trieste in September. We must discuss this later. It’s not as far away from Trieste as Venezia and it really would be worthwhile to pay a visit whilst that exhibition is running.
Just one further little note. On the Wednesday evening I went out alone for dinner in the Restaurant Gennaro in Via Cividale. Some people who had also been at the ceremony in the morning came in and after dinner I joined them at their table. Shortly afterwards, a hand dropped on my shoulder and a pleasant greeting came from the Mayor of Palmanova. He, too, was out for a pleasant evening dressed very casually like most people, and being very amiable and pleasant. I flew back Ryanair from Treviso to Liverpool on Thursday 3 June.